Scan 3XS MGW-20 review

Pros

  • Amazing graphics performance
  • Great rendering performance
  • Capacious storage
  • Good value for money

Cons

  • It's heavy
  • Mediocre keyboard and trackpad
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The words mobile and workstation are close to being mutually exclusive. The more mobile a computer is, the less power it is likely to have, making it less of a workstation. Most mobile workstations worth considering are therefore more like desktops in an easily portable format, as opposed to notebooks you would actually want to carry with you on a regular basis. Scan's 3XS MGW-20 fits very clearly into this category, offering desktop levels of performance you could carry between locations. We previewed the 3XS MGW-20 last month, but now we’ve had a chance to put the machine through its paces in a full review.

The main star of the show is the graphics, which comes in the form of Nvidia's Quadro K5000M mobile workstation chipset. This is the latest Kepler generation, which has impressed us greatly in desktop form. The K5000M sports a whopping 1,344 CUDA processors alongside 4GB of GDDR5 memory, and 96GB/sec of bandwidth, with just 100W in terms of power consumption.

The bandwidth is just over half of the desktop K5000, but with only 192 fewer CUDA cores, the figures are otherwise pretty close. It's worth noting that there will be an even more powerful mobile Quadro for the latest Intel Haswell processor generation called the K5100M, which has the same number of CUDA processors as the desktop part and a massive 8GB of GDDR5 memory.

We will have to wait to sample the delights of this GPU, however, as the MGW-20 incorporates a processor from Intel's Ivy Bridge generation. There are a number of options for this notebook, but our sample came with an Intel Core i7 3740QM. This is a 2.7GHz quad-core processor, although a single core can increase to 3.7GHz thanks to Turbo Boost, and Hyper-Threading turns the four physical cores into eight virtual ones.

The processor is backed by a hefty 32GB of DDR3 SDRAM, which is the maximum for this notebook, and will be more than enough for a 3D workstation. The processor also incorporates Intel HD 4000 graphics, which will take over dynamically when the Quadro K5000M is not required, in order to reduce power consumption, courtesy of Nvidia’s Optimus technology.

The storage provision is comprehensive and high-end. The main drive for the operating system and applications is a healthy 256GB Samsung 840 Pro solid state disk, but there’s also a secondary 7,200rpm hard disk in the shape of a 750GB Western Digital Scorpio Black, which will provide plenty of capacity for digital media assets. There is also a tray-loading Blu-ray reader and DVD rewriter, plus the usual SD card reader.

As we noted in our hands-on preview, the design and build quality of the MGW-20's Clevo chassis are not as finely honed as custom systems from the few manufacturers with the volume to produce them, such as Dell's Precision M6700 – but there is room for some high-end features. The 17.3in screen provides a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, which is pretty standard for this size of display. It's bright and clear, with good viewing angles. This may not have the resolution of a MacBook Retina display, but it's still a decent enough size for professional 3D work.

With its huge 3.9kg chassis, the MGW-20 is unsurprisingly bristling with ports. On the right, next to the optical drive, is a combined eSATA and USB port, plus a trio of USB 3.0 ports. The rear is home to HDMI, DisplayPort and yet another USB 3.0 port. The left houses a quartet of audio jacks, providing line input and S/PDIF output as well as microphone and headphone, alongside the SD card reader and LAN. A VGA port is conspicuous by its absence, but this isn't a system you would expect to use for corporate presentations anyway, so the existing digital connections should suffice. There's also no ExpressCard slot – but otherwise this is a comprehensive selection.

The keyboard provides more finger resistance than most, which didn’t provide the best typing experience. The trackpad is also rather mechanical in its action, and has inexplicably been placed close to the middle of the wrist rest rather than underneath the spacebar. We found we did occasionally move the pointer with our palm when typing. You probably wouldn't buy this laptop to write your next novel, but it's still a little frustrating. The MGW-20 also came with Windows 8 Professional installed, which we wouldn't recommend for a 3D workstation with no touchscreen.

But this machine’s performance is impossible to fault. The MGW-20 managed an impressive score of 5.91 in the rendering portion of Maxon Cinebench R11.5. However, we have seen a couple of faster results, and with the same processor. Scan's own 3XS MGW-10 managed 7.06, and we can only assume that the choice of supplying Windows 8 is the culprit.

However, the graphics are the true star, with 77.16 in the OpenGL portion of Cinebench R11.5 being very much a desktop-grade performance. It's the fastest we have ever seen from a notebook – even quicker than the dual graphics-equipped Alienware m18x. The 3DMark11 result of 5,188, on the other hand, is only bettered by the Alienware laptop, although DirectX gaming is not the focus of the MGW-20.

As this is a laptop aimed at 3D animation, we also ran the venerable SPECviewperf 11 professional suite of OpenGL tests, with stunning results across the board. Highlights included 75.12 in the lightwave-01 viewset, a gob-smacking 103.6 in maya-03, and 62.75 in the SolidWorks-based sw-02 test. All of these would give a true desktop workstation a run for its money, implying that this system can give you a similar modelling experience to a workstation that you really couldn't take with you from location to location.

The MGW-20 lasted just 78 minutes in our intensive processor and graphics battery workload, one of the smallest durations we have recorded for this test, and significantly behind its MGW-10 predecessor, although only slightly behind Dell's Precision M6700. You could only realistically expect one-and-a-half to two hours of 3D work on a battery, although in reality you will probably use this notebook attached to the power supply most of the time, for optimum performance.

Verdict

The Scan 3XS MGW-20 doesn't have the build, design or screen of the Dell Precision M6700 we tested at the beginning of the year. However, at around £3,000 for the specification we reviewed, the MGW-20 is two thirds the price, with much more graphics power on offer. If you are looking for a desktop workstation's level of modelling ability in a portable format, the MGW-20 provides huge amounts of OpenGL ability for the money, making it great value, although an actual desktop with the same ability would be considerably cheaper still.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Scan 3XS MGW-20

Processor

2.7GHz Intel Core i7 3740QM

RAM

32GB DDR3 SDRAM

Graphics

Intel HD 4000 and NVIDIA Quadro K5000M

Hard disk

256GB Samsung 840 Pro solid state disk and 750GB Western Digital Scorpio Black 7,200rpm hard disk

Optical disc

Samsung SN-505BB Blu-ray player and DVD rewriter

Display

17.3in LED-backlit TFT with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

Networking

802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4

Interfaces

4 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0 / eSATA combo, HDMI, DisplayPort, LAN, line in, S/PDIF out, headphone, microphone, SD card reader

Width x Depth x Height

416 x 290 x 52mm

Weight

3.9kg

Warranty

2 year premium collect and return